Monday, January 24, 2011

Do you see what I just did there?

I don't remember what I last blogged about, but I am on a bus, not tired, sin dramamine, and figure this is as good a time to write as any. Bus rides are spectacular. In my part of Peru, our bus rides are super atrocious in many ways – our buses are old, rusty, falling apart clunkers. Even if you sit all the way back in your seat, your knees are painfully shoved into the seat in front of you. The bus drivers are often drunk. I am five hours from the nearest paved road, so it's VERY bumpy. The roads up here are silly levels of windy. At least every fifth person on the bus is throwing up into a plastic bag. They play the same screechy wayno music at top volume the whole way. It's too hot, or else it's too cold. The person in the next seat inevitably thinks that open windows make you sick, or some other unlucky thing, and you have to close it. It constantly looks like you are definitely about to plunge about a half mile down the steep mountainsides. On this trip, my window has been hit three times by water balloons thrown by random little kids in the middle of nowhere (because of Canivale coming) and one of the times, my window was open, so now I am wet. Actually, putting it all together like this, maybe the open window theory has something to it...

On the other hand, it's on these bus rides, when you are too nauseous to do anything but look out the window that you are like, HOLY CRAP I LIVE IN THE NORTHERN PERUVIAN ANDES. It is spectacularly beautiful. I pay some price for being way further in the middle of nowhere than most volunteers, but I get the better bonus. Up in these mountains, everything is so green and lush and dramatically gorgeous. And if I am on this bus at night, there are more stars than anyone would ever possibly believe. I also get to be two steps further into the experience of cultural strangeness. The further out you go, the less “normal” everything gets. Even my Peruvian friends from the coast make fun of how out there the mountain folk are. I love it.

Another part of living so far out is that I get to be a free agent as far as my capital city goes. All volunteers have a capital city, depending on your department. The volunteers in La Libertad hang out in Trujillo; those in Lamabyeque hang out in Chiclayo; in Ancash, it's Huaraz; I think in Arequipa they hang out in Arequipa City and in Chivay too. Santa Cruz is in the department of Cajamarca, so really my capital city should be Cajamarca City, or Caja City as I like to call it (bad Peruvian slang joke?) Thing is, out where I am, I am called a “Chota-area Volunteer.” We are the forgotten bunch, tossed off the map. Chota is a town of maybe 30,000, about 6 hours north of Cajamarca City. It's little, but it's ours. There are a dozen of us or so situated anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours out of Chota, in all directions. So that is kind of our capital city. We have our own separate meetings there, without the rest of the Cajamarca group – the Southern Caja team.

Thing is, Chota can't fairly be counted as a capital city. When a volunteer anywhere heads in, they get paved roads, real variety of shopping and activities, all kinds of familiar things. You can't even rightly get mail in Chota, because there is no customs office – you always end up having to run into the bigger cities anyways. Really there is nothing in Chota. So, I am four hours from Chota. I am five hours from Chiclayo. Takes me ten to get to Caja City. Hell, I can even randomly get to Trujillo in less time than it takes me to get to Caja. So, I go where I want – pretty much just rotating between Chota and Chiclayo, heading down to Caja only for large events.. It's nice. I am getting to know a lot of different crews of volunteers. I am getting to hear a lot of stories about a lot of places. Yet another bonus of my extreme middle-of-nowhere-ness.

You know that the moon is upside down here? You cup it in your left hand when it's waxing, your right when waning. Confused the hell out of me for the longest time. I was seriously considering building myself a model of the universe to try and figure out why this ones. Randomly hit me one day – it was just too simple to see up close. I AM STANDING UPSIDE DOWN. Ha. I think I am going to build that model of the universe anyways. Maybe with the kids I am building the telescope with. Also, part of the upside down here – totally summer right now... Silly Southern Hemisphere.

Have I mentioned that I have been training my town in everything American and Awesome? So far, I have got people coming up to me and yelling “Top Gun!” and top gun high fiving me. Also, everyone in Santa Cruz is a Ducks fan – we had a party at a restaurant to watch the BCS Championship game. I didn't even try to explain the rules, but everyone eventually figured out when to get excited and were bitterly disappointed when we lost. I am thinking of really organizing up a Superbowl party at that same restaurant – with wings and beer and whatever. Get the whole town to come. So fun.

I am on my way back home right now. I have been at a week of In Service Training in Huanchaco, this touristy little beach place. It was super fun to get to see everyone from training again for a week. Also, we got some absolutely awesome trainings and I hope to be jumping into some more good projects this week. And Chris Heather taught us all how to think. So that was friggin' key. Don't know what we would do without that guy. By the way, this isn't sarcasm. This guy is a rockstar.

I am starting a series of children's picture books about my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I need some good graphic manipulation software. So far, I've got “Where's Jorge?,” “The Little Duck Who Died,” and a whole series of “[Insert name here] and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Charla.”

Ok, gaining altitude and windiness now. Keep typing and I am gonna barf. Así, ciao.

Monday, January 10, 2011


My world is chaotic. In pretty much every part of my life here of my life here, things are going as well as humanly possible. In so many ways, my site is more than I could have hoped for. I may be the luckiest volunteer in Perú. Life's great. 
On the amazing front lines, OH MY GOSH did I strike gold with the new Municipalidad. Their first day was last Monday and I went in to meet them on Tuesday. The mayor seemed a little confused about my role (aren't we all?) but a guy sitting behind him, the gerente, stepped forward enthusiastically and started clarifying. Wait, you're here to do all sorts of projects to better the community? For free? And you have ideas? Great. He told the mayor to give me the next office over.

So now I am set up. I have a space to work and people enthusiastic to work with me. Getting in right at the beginning like this, they are taking project suggestions from me. I am going in and saying here's something I want to work on. Then I go back to my office and a little while later, someone has been called in who is good for that project and they are sent in to meet with me. I am giving assignments to City Councilors and shit. I am getting whatever support I need. Today, they are looking over my Community Diagnostic for me. It's amazing.

Even better than that, the gerente and his partner are brilliant, so far not corrupt, and actually want to get a lot of good work done. I have walked into his office in the past week with vague ideas and we have awesome brainstorm-y conversations to figure out what we can do with them. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. But in the meantime, I have collected a ton of new socios in the past week. I am almost overwhelmed. I am the shadow government. Ha!

My friendships here are spectacular and a half as well. Most of us that are in the sierra don't get to get really good friends at site. We just come from a completely different world than the campo people and there isn't that much to talk about. You get a bunch of friends, but I mean real friends, like friends you would have back home. I have found that. One guy in particular, a Peruvian from the city who is a bit lost out here as well, and all of his friends that I am getting to know, who are smart and mellow and kind.

Tonight, these lovely friends have found me a place to watch the BCS National Championship tonight! We are having a little football party! I am absurdly excited for this. I sat up last night making green and gold bracelets for everyone. Actually, that may have been taking it a bit too far, but I had been planning to learn to make those things yesterday, so it just sort of happened on its own. Go Ducks!

I suck at making bracelet these things. They are seriously ugly. I am gonna practice a little more. I am gonna use this to teach my little sombra. There is a little dude that follows me around everywhere, maybe 7 years old, and I just call him “Sombra,” or shadow. He is a sweet kid but possibly one of the poorest and hungriest I have around. When I get too bored, I can always go sit on the church steps or in the bakery and my sombra will find me in a matter of minutes. I am gonna teach him to make bracelets and show him how to save up for more string. He can sell these in the market, or to the other little ones. Right now, he spends his evening walking around scrounging for scraps and begging for change. I think this will be a little better, and hopefully my first new little entrepreneur in the Peace Corps. I like the Sombra.

I don't really think I have anything else to say. We have our Early In-Service Training (IST) starting on Sunday in Trujillo. I am gonna head there via Cajamarca to see some good friends and have some Peace Corps style Olympic events called the Cajalympics. Won't say much about that here – but it should be a blast. And me and Biz are representing Israel (I'm Jewish and he is Palestinian.) Should be thoroughly inappropriate.

IST is on community banks, which I initially thought sounded like the most boring thing they could possibly make us learn to build. But then my Muni gave me a pretty awesome socio for it. He has ideas and plans and is excited as hell to come to Trujillo with me. Today, he even brought me some more people to my office who want to help. We haven't even had the training yet. Dude is gung-ho.

I will be there for a week, coming back via the Chiclayo route (faster and holds my mail) the next weekend, on the 21st or 22nd. When I come back, I plan to be in full swing with a lot of my new project ideas and it will also be time to start planning the presentation of my Diagnostic to my community. When am I going to stop finding this job intimidating?

I fell in the mud today. There was no electricity and a lot of cows. My town has been flooded the last couple of days. I think it will spend much of the next couple of months this way. I like all of these things.